How Russia’s 2008 invasion and ongoing occupation has motivated Georgia’s Rugby World Cup team
05 October, 2015
How Russia’s 2008 invasion and ongoing occupation has motivated Georgia’s Rugby World Cup team
American online magazine Slate has published an article about Georgian Rugby Team.

"In just the second match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which opened last week in England, the small Caucasus nation of Georgia gave the tournament its first upset with a 17–10 win over an experienced Tongan side. In a sport where the past matters, Georgia is a relative newcomer, and beating a team with nearly a century of test play—and a strong World Cup upset history of
its own—was a big win. But Georgia, which initially struggled to even get matches after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has steadily become a surprise threat in the world of rugby and now has a chance to do more damage against fellow rugby trailblazer Argentina on Friday. Rugby is now the most popular sport in the nation of less than 4 million. What’s more, Georgia’s rise has been made in the shadow of its darkest hour: the nation’s 2008 war with Russia. That war has fueled an intense rugby rivalry with the Russians, but it has also helped inspire the team to new heights—since 2008, Georgia has won the second-tier European Nations Cup six out of seven times and maintained its best run in the world rankings.

Merab Sharikadze, Georgian rugby’s top player in 2014, knows how important the sport is to his countrymen. “Georgia had some hard times as a country, and the people had hard times. They’re finding their relaxation and their strength and their happiness on the rugby pitch,” Sharikadze told me. The gregarious inside center draws motivation from the fervent, singing supporters who pack Georgia’s stadiums to support the Lelos. (The team nickname is the name of an old folk football game similar to rugby that has been played in Georgia from the pre-Christian period.) “You can make them forget about everything else. They have other troubles,” he said. “[But you can] make them happy by winning or playing well.”

Georgia’s troubles began when Russia invaded in August 2008, Sharikadze says. “Putin still has troops in South Ossetia,” he said. “They have occupied our territory. … That kind of stuff destroys your economy.”

Like most of Georgia’s best performers, the 22-year-old, 36-match veteran—noted for his ferocious tackling—makes his living playing for a club team in France, but he often thinks of home. “In 2008 no one could imagine that something would happen because everything was going so well,” he said. “You never know what this guy [Putin will] do.” (In the years since Russia’s occupation of the South Ossetia region and nearly 20 percent of Georgian territory, Putin has invaded Ukraine and hugged a bear.)

The ongoing stress of the occupation has charged Georgia’s test matches against Russia. Since the war, Georgia has won seven of seven matches against Russia, their last match being a 33­–0 home victory in Tbilisi in March. (Historically, the Lelos have won 17 out of 19 against Russia, losing the first contest between the two sides in 1993 but dominating since then.) “People won’t forgive us if we lose that game,” Sharikadze said. “The Russia game is always with the biggest crowd and the biggest noise on the pitch, so it gives us extra power all the time.”

A few of the current Lelos were even in the Georgian army during Russia’s 2008 invasion, but they are reluctant to talk about it and didn’t want their names mentioned, according to the team’s media manager.

The team was on the rise right before the war and has only rallied since. The Lelos have won 25 of their last 26 tests in the European Nations Cup (the second tier after Europe’s premiere Six Nations competition). They had a respectable showing in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. This year, their under-18 team beat Ireland and came in second to France in the European final. “Everyone is working hard,” Sharikadze says. “We want the whole world to know Georgia.”

The war and its aftermath have not been the nation’s only difficulties in recent years, though. Flash floods wrecked the Tbilisi Zoo in June, and Georgia’s weather is another regular challenge for the Lelos in both practices and matches. “Against Belgium last year in Georgia, the pitch was frozen, and we were freezing,” Sharikadze recalls. “Every single tackle you could feel that the pitch was hard as ever. I should not feel any coldness, but I was freezing.”

Coach Milton Haig’s first game, in Ukraine in 2012, got called off because it was negative 40 degrees. But the Lelos play when it’s snowing or as low as negative 21, Haig says.

Russia and Georgia’s 2009 and 2010 games had to be held on neutral territory—in Ukraine and Turkey—because of the war. “Many Georgians still feel very, very angry about it,” Haig says. “From a Georgian perspective, Russia still occupies Georgian territory, no more than 50 kilometers from where we live.”

That recent history hangs over the games, said Haig, a Maori New Zealander who had never experienced anything like the rivalry before. “The first year was crazy,” he said. “As a foreigner you’ve got no understanding of it really, and what it does to a whole country, that this game’s coming up.” That 2012 game, the first match against Russia in Georgia since the war, the Lelos kept calm and won 46–0.

Haig is one of seven Kiwis coaching teams at the World Cup, which bills itself as the world’s third biggest international sporting event. He learned Georgian to give his players thorough team talks before their World Cup games.

Georgia’s third match of the World Cup will come against New Zealand’s legendary All Blacks, the current title-holders. Haig and Sharikadze aren’t daunted by the thought of Georgia tussling with All Blacks legends like Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, and Richie McCaw in Cardiff, Wales. “We’re not afraid of any team,” Haig says" - reads the article, published by Slate Magazine.

By Alexander Bisley

Alexander Bisley is a writer contributing to various outlets, including the BBC and the Guardian. Follow him on Twitter.

www.slate.com

Related stories:

Warrior on the front line and at the stadium – A Georgian National Rugby Player

Georgian Lion Mamuka Gorgodze named Man of the Match at Rugby World Cup 2015

Georgia's performance against New Zealand reignites ‘Seven Nations’ debate
Print
Other Stories
Zaza Pachulia’s  accountant convicted of misappropriation of  800 ,000 US dollars
According to Sentinel, Zaza’s former accountant Randy Di Usow misappropriated 800 thousand US dollars from Georgian basketball player Zaza Pachulia and his wife.
Georgian National Rugby team preparing for the World Cup 2019
Rugby is becoming more and more popular in Georgia, mainly because Georgians appear to play it very well.
Guram Kashia to receive the inaugural #EqualGame award
Guram Kashia is a Georgian football player –presently a centre-back for the San-Francisco San Jose Earthquakes in the Major League Soccer MLS.
The win dedicated to the Georgians who died during the 2008 conflict
Davit Kiria is a Georgian kickboxer. He fights in the lightweight division. He has previously won the Kyokushinkai Karate Kamakura European Championship and the Glory Lightweight Championship in Zagreb in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
Gold medals at Judo Grand Prix, Zagrebi (Croatia)
The previous unsuccessful days were compensated by finals’ medals at the Grand Prix.
Nikoloz Basilashvili – First Georgian to win an ATP World Tour
Nikoloz Basilashvili is the first player from Georgia to gain an ATP World Tour title by winning the German Tennis Championships 2018.
Tochinoshin will not participate in the summer tour of Japan
On the 29th of July Sumo wrestlers would normally start their summer tour of Japan. It usually lasts for around 1 month.
Tochinoshin Pulls out of the 2018 Nagoya Basho, so what comes next?
Georgian Sumo wrestler, Levan Gorgadze (Tochinoshin) withdrew from the 2018 Nagoya Basho Grand Sumo Tournament on July 14 due to a tendon injury in his foot.
More gold medals for Georgian wheelchair fencers
Irma Khetsuriani, a Georgian wheelchair fencer recently defeated Saysunee Jana of Thailand with a score of 15-10 in the Sabre category, at the Wheelchair Fencing World Cup in Warsaw, Poland (9-12July) to gain another gold medal (IWAS Senior world games).
Tochinoshin pulls out of Nagoya Basho due to trauma
Today Georgian Sumo Wrestler Levan Gorgadze, also known as Tochinoshin pulled out of Nagoya Basho tournament.
Tochinoshin loses a battle at the 6th day of Nagoya Basho
Today Tochinoshin Levan Gorgadze lost the battle against Komusubi Tamawashi.
Tochinoshin wins for the fifth time in a row at the Nagoya Basho
Today Tochinoshin Levan Gorgadze won for the fifth time in a row at the Nagoya Basho tournament.
Tochinoshin wins for fourth time in a row in Sumo Tournament
Today, on the fourth day of the Nagoya Basho Sumo tournament, Georgian Tochinoshin has won again, the fourth time in a row.
Tochinoshin wins third time in a row
It is a third day of Nagoya Basho, Sumo tournament. Georgian Sumo wrestler Levan Gorgadze won third time in a row.
Tochinoshin wins second time in a row in Sumo tournament
Today, on a second day of Nagoya Basho tournament, Georgian Sumo wrestler Levan Gorgadze, whose nickname is Tochinoshin, won second time in a row.
Georgia’s U20 rugby team beats Scotland, claims 9th place at the World Rugby U20 Championship
Georgia achieved their best ever finish of ninth overall at the World Rugby U20 Championship. Junior Lelos won three consecutive games for the first time at the Championship.
Canoer Zaza Nadiradze claims the first ever gold medal in canoeing
Canoer Zaza Nadiradze claims the first ever gold medal in canoeing.
Georgian basketball player Zaza Pachulia’s team wins NBA Championship
The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship. The team has defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers with a final score of 108-85 on Friday evening, completing a perfect 4-0 sweep.
Georgian Ozeki Tochinoshin awarded honorary citizenship of Mtskheta
Georgian Ozeki and world-famous sumo wrestler Levan Gorgadze (Tochinoshin) was granted the title of honorary citizen
 Georgian sumo wrestler beats 40-time champion in 12th big match
On May 24, 2018 Georgian sumo wrestler Tochinoshin (Levan Gorgadze) triumphed in the 12th match of 15-day Summer Grand Sumo
Georgia to host 2023 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships
Georgia’s famous ski resorts of Bakuriani and Gudauri will host the 2023 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships.
Dinamo Arena to host historic match between Georgian Rugby Team and French Barbarians on May 31
Georgian Rugby Team, nicknamed as The Lelos, will play against French Barbarians (The Barbarian Rugby Club) on May 31.
Messi appointed Ambassador for Responsible Tourism by Georgian head of World Tourism Organization
Lionel Messi, a world famous footballer from Argentina, considered by many the best football player of all times,
Georgian Judokas claim 14 medals at Tbilisi Grand Prix competition
Georgian judo team became the triumphator at the tournament Grand Prix, a competition hosted in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Young Georgian Rugby Team wins European Championship by defeating France
Rugby has always been the subject of national pride for Georgians. “Rugby is our game!”
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Exchange Rates
GEL Exchange Rate
Convertor
23.09.2018
24.09.2018
USD
1
USD
2.6216
2.6216
EUR
1
EUR
3.0854
3.0854
GBP
1
GBP
3.4584
3.4584
RUB
100
RUB
3.9340
3.9340
Other Stories
Georgia’s Under-20 national rugby team have claimed their second victory at the ongoing Rugby World Cup in Japan
You can be hopeful of us like we are of you, - sumo wrestler Tochinoshin (Levan Gorgadze) told Georgian Prime Minister
On June 4, world-famous Georgian sumo wrestler Tochinoshin (born Levan Gorgadze) arrived in his homeland.
Georgian rugby team claimed yet another historic victory over French Barbarians – the second national team of the French Rugby Federation.
For the first time in the history of Sumo wrestling, a Georgian national has become the owner of the Emperor’s Cup.
Renowned Georgian chess player Nana Dzagnidze claimed the gold medal
It was in the beginning of the 1980s, when FC Dinamo Tbilisi was enjoying their best
The Georgian national rugby team defeated the U.S. squad at the Mikheil Meskhi stadium in Tbilisi on November 25.
Georgian athletes defeated British in sitting volleyball at the Invictus Games Toronto, Canada, 2017.
The national basketball team of Georgia defeated Israel at the Eurobasket
GEL Exchange
USD
1
USD
2.6216
EUR
1
EUR
3.0854
GBP
1
GBP
3.4584
RUB
100
RUB
3.9340